Methods for Creating True Innovation

Zen and Innovation : Kouji Miki
19 min readJul 21, 2021

Results of zenschool

Ltd., a company founded by me, Miki, and my partner, Utsunomiya, started the “zenschool”, an innovation course for developing in-house products and services, in March 2011, and 195 people have completed the course by now (June 2021). We continue to keep in touch with them even after they have completed the course, and check on the progress of their projects.
About 25 percent of the graduates have created some kind of new product or service and are actually selling it. Some of them have increased their sales by about 500% compared to before they took the zenschool course, created products that have generated cumulative sales of about 100 million yen, increased their employment rate by more than 10 times compared to before they took the course, founded a venture company that has raised a cumulative 5.7 billion yen, and developed and established Japan’s first private lunar exploration robot in 2021. In 2021, Japan’s first private lunar exploration robot was developed and launched.
We believe that the main reason why zenschool has been so successful is because of the “dialogue skills” experienced and learned at zenschool. In addition, I hope that they will be able to learn the zenschool style of dialogue. In addition, I believe that by continuing the meditation work practiced at zenschool, I have increased my “power to notice.
In this chapter, I would like to explain the zenschool program in a flowing manner so that you can get a sense of the zenschool style of dialogue that is consistently practiced in the program. In the next chapter, we will focus on the zenshool way of interacting.

Teach Nothing

Although zenschool aims to create innovation, we believe in not teaching anything. Let me quote them.

“Most of our students who have done contract work are able to provide solutions when given a problem, but none of them are able to figure out the problem on their own. When we, the instructors, declare that we will not give them answers, the students begin to ask themselves questions in order to find out what they really wanted to do. By doing so, they will gradually be able to set their own tasks. At zenschool, we give you knowledge, but we never give you “answers”. At zenschool, we give you knowledge, but we never give you “the answer.” In developing your own product/service, the “answer” is something special that lies within each individual.

We instructors don’t know anything significant. Our stance is to have each individual tell us the “real answer” that they have hidden in their belly through dialogue.
However, some of the students who pay to attend zenschool find it hard to get out of the mindset that they are here to learn something they don’t know. We tend to seek approval from the instructor. We try to pass it off as obliviousness. When we start to think that it is useless to ask, we may finally start to struggle to find the answer ourselves.

This is how the zenschool process works to create “true innovation” through dialogue-based thinking. Let’s take a look at it step by step.

zenschool process diagram

1.Team Building — Writing a “Personal History Mind Map

The first goal of zenschool is to build a team that can eventually support each other’s business. In order to share each other’s views on life and values in a short time, we use a method called “personal history mind mapping.
Team building using the “Personal History Mind Map” is a great way to support the people who love this city. I learned how to use this method from Mr. Shinya Nakayama, the president of Rakuten University, who I became friends with through Kamacon, an organization that conducts various activities under the theme of “supporting people who love this town as much as possible! With his permission, I have adapted and used his method.

During this team building, it is necessary to treat this place as a completely safe place. All participants, including the instructor, sign an oath of confidentiality, promising not to disclose any information to anyone outside the group. Self-disclosure in the “Personal History Mind Map” is also done by zenschool instructors. This is to ensure that everyone can build trust equally. This means that there will be as many mind maps as there are instructors and students.
The first thing to do is to write the nickname you want everyone to call you and your mission (what you think it is) in the center.
Then, from the center, put “work” on the right side and “personal life” on the left side, and branch out from there.

The author’s own mind map (Miki)

The author’s own mind map (Miki)

At this point, it is important for us lecturers to disclose all information as much as possible. If the instructor is hesitant, the other participants will be less likely to disclose information. The mind map was written by myself. I have written about my restructuring, my chronic illness, my religious beliefs, and other things that I feel uncomfortable sharing with others. In my personal history mind map, for example, I disclose things that are difficult to say.

●I am divorced…
●My chronic disease…
●My personality…
●What is my educational background?
●I distrust women…
●I have memories of past lives and other strange experiences…
●I have seen a ghost…

Reveal everything about yourself

After this, each person introduces himself/herself in front of everyone.

It is known that self-disclosure as much as possible deepens the dialogue.
The deeper the dialogue, the more potential fundamental desires can be uncovered, and the core seeds of innovation can be extracted.

2. Remembering the Excitement — Meditation and “Remembering the Summer Vacation of a 10-Year-Old” Work

Whether you are a manager or a company employee, most working people have many tasks and worries to deal with every day. Tasks and worries can suppress a person’s natural creativity.

At zenschool, we use meditation to help each participant unleash their innate creativity and get what they really wanted to do out of their mind. This method of meditation is different from both mindfulness meditation and Zen meditation. Many of the students at zenschool have never meditated or practiced zazen before. This is why we devised a way to maximize the effect in a short time. Please follow the steps below.


For beginners to meditation, we will do chair meditation, which is easy to try even if you cannot cross your legs. Also, to make it easier for beginners, we have adopted a method that specifically instructs breathing techniques. In general meditation, you are instructed roughly to “pay attention to your breathing,” but at zenschool, we give you clear instructions on how to pay attention to your breathing.
The first thing to do is to breathe as if you were breathing in through the soles of your feet. Breathe through your mouth, not through your nose. Breathe through your mouth, not through your nose, and use your mouth as if you were sucking on a straw. Breathe along the red line as shown in the diagram, from the soles of the feet, through the legs, and at the tanden (the area three fingers below the belly button). After inflating the balloon in the tanden for about two seconds, breathe out through your anus and imagine that you are going from the tailbone, through the spinal cord and into the neck bone to the acupuncture point at the top of the head called “Hyakkai”. When you reach the point, hold your breath there for about two seconds, as if you were blowing up a balloon. Breathe for 10 to 13 seconds when inhaling. If your lungs fill up during the process, exhale lightly and continue breathing again.

After inflating the balloon with the 100th meeting, exhale this time with the image of following the blue line in the diagram. Exhale for about 10 seconds. Exhale completely from your lungs.

In zenschool, this meditation work is divided into three sessions.

The first session is more like a practice. The second is a three-minute meditation with eyes closed to further practice the breathing techniques. The third is a ten-minute meditation. The third meditation is for ten minutes, and unlike the meditation and breathing exercises practiced in the previous two sessions, you do not move your body. When the meditation starts, be aware that you should never move your body “like a rock”. You may feel pressured, but by being careful not to move, you will be able to focus more on the inside of your body.

Remembering my summer vacation when I was 10 years old

During this third meditation, we will do a meditation work called “Remembering the Summer Vacation of a 10-Year-Old” while continuing the breathing and meditation. However, not many people can easily recall their summer vacation at the age of ten.
The trick is to imagine your 10-year-old face in the mirror: what kind of haircut you had, the outline of your face, the shape of your eyes, your nose, your mouth, and the clothes you wore back then. …… You might be completely black and tanned, or wearing your favorite baseball cap.
With these images, jump back to the exciting summer vacation when you were 10 years old and experience that fun for a while. By doing so, you will be able to encounter your original experience of being excited.
As soon as you finish meditating, write down the memories of the time when you were ten years old that you recall during meditation.

3. the passion that lies within you x your skills — Wakuwaku(exciting) treasure hunting

You may have retrieved a lot of exciting memories from the “remembering your summer vacation at age 10” work you did in the meditation. If so, choose three or so memories that are particularly memorable.
After that, you will use a chart called the “Wakuwaku(Exciting) Treasure Hunting Chart. This chart is very simple. As the name suggests, the “Wakuwaku(Exciting) Treasure Hunting Chart” is a “treasure hunting” chart. You use the chart to dig for the treasure that is always in everyone’s heart.

Wakuwaku Treasure Hunting chart

First, on the vertical axis of the chart, write the exciting memories you remembered from the “Remembering the summer vacation of a 10-year-old” work as keywords. Next, on the horizontal axis, write down the management resources such as “skills and techniques that you can use now.
Once you have written them down, draw a straight line parallel to the horizontal axis from the keywords on the vertical axis and parallel to the vertical axis from the keywords on the horizontal axis, and mark the intersection points where the straight lines intersect. Imagine that there is a treasure buried under one of these intersections.
For example, if there are three exciting keywords on the vertical axis and two skills that you can use on the horizontal axis, there are six intersections. In this work, it is not possible to dig up all the intersections, so we will dig up the one or two places where the most important treasures are likely to be buried. If there are six intersections and treasure is buried underneath all of them, then there is no scarcity of “treasure”. Treasure is valuable because it is rare, and in that sense it is “treasure.

In the example shown in the photo, the skills “精密金属加工(precision metal processing)” and “ダイカスト鋳造(die casting)” are written on the horizontal axis. The excitement on the vertical axis, which I can’t show you because it is personal information, is the experience of excitement.

The most important part of this work is to determine where the treasure is buried from the multiple intersections, but how do we do that?
Intuition is the key.
In my case, I put the tip of a pointed ballpoint pen on the intersection point, look closely at the keywords on the vertical and horizontal axes, and try to imagine if there is treasure there. Concentrate on sharpening your mind and using your intuition, and look at the worksheet you have written out. Then, intuitively, there is a place that “rings a bell”. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is that “rings a bell” for me.
Many working people have a brain that has been reinforced with a lot of logic in their work. As a result, they may not be able to notice when their body is reacting.
Let’s put a double circle around the intersection that “rings a bell. Draw a speech balloon and write the image that comes out of that intersection in words. Some key words may also appear in the image. For example, “exciting” and “fun,” “warm” and “cold,” “rough” and “smooth,” and “orange” and “green.
Few of us can write the specific details of a product or service in a speech balloon from the beginning. In most cases, it is hard to even decide where the treasure is buried under the intersection. However, I try to believe that humans have instincts and intuition.

4.Extraction of “卒啄同時/Sottaku Douji” — Miracles beyond the dialogue

The phrase “卒啄同時/Sotaku Doji” is a Zen saying.
The phrase “卒啄同時/Sotaku Doki” is a Zen expression that compares the state of a person’s enlightenment to that of an egg hatching. The meaning of the word is: “When a chicken chick is about to come out of the egg, it pokes the egg shell from inside and makes a sound. This is called ‘Sottottama’. At that time, the parent bird pecked at the eggshell from the outside and broke it, which is called pecking. Only when the pecking and the pecking are simultaneous can the shell be broken and the chicks be born. This is called “simultaneous pecking from inside and outside the pecking-hole. This is not limited to chickens, but also applies to masters and students. This is an important phrase that should be learned not only from chickens but also from the relationship between parents and children. (quoted from the website of the Őbaku school of Buddhism)

At zenschool, it is a dialogue between students and instructors. I believe that the greatest value of zenschool lies in this “dialogue.
Let’s take a look at a sample “Wakuwaku(Exciting) Treasure Hunting Chart” to see what kind of dialogue we have. The student who wrote this chart is Ms. Takako Kajikawa, a female businesswoman who runs a metal mold shop in Toyama. Ms. Kajikawa recalled the time when she used to work in the fashion industry and realized that she was very excited about it. She also recalled that she was very excited about the keyword “beautiful.
As for his current skills and available management resources, he wrote “machining technology” on the horizontal axis from the standpoint of a president who runs a mold manufacturing business.

Ms.Kajikawa doing her work.

From the chart, Ms. Kajikawa combined the word “beautiful” with “machining technology to process molds,” and came up with the concept of “making something beautiful with machining technology and selling it.
However, as we proceeded to dig deeper into the concept, a not-so-subtle expression appeared on his face. It seemed that Ms. Kajikawa was not very excited about manufacturing.
So, I asked Ms. Kajikawa, “Are you really excited about the concept of ‘making beautiful things’? I asked her. Gradually, Ms. Kajikawa became at a loss for words. He seemed to be in some kind of conflict. So I decided to stop digging and give her some time. Ms. Kajikawa went for a walk nearby to cool down.
At this point in time, Ms. Kajikawa was unaware that as a manager of a manufacturing company, he was caught up in the idea that he had to use the processing technology he had developed. He was “inside the box” of the manufacturing industry.

The next day, I had another conversation with Ms. Kajikawa about “what excites me”. At that time, I asked Ms. Kajikawa if he had any skills or management resources other than “machining technology” that he could use. Ms. Kajikawa replied that he had a space on his company’s premises that he was using for storage. I told her, “So that’s a useful management resource? I told her and added it to the horizontal axis of the “Wakuwaku(Exciting) Treasure Hunting Chart”. I then asked her if there were any treasures lying at the intersection of “unused space” and “beautiful”.
Ms. Kajikawa murmured.
I like to go to museums, and it would be fun to decorate that space with beautiful things.
So, what kind of beautiful things do you find exciting to display?
While writing down what Ms. Kajikawa said, I asked, “It’s like building a museum in that space, isn’t it? I asked.

Ms. Kajikawa’s expression brightened as he mumbled, “An art museum in a town factory? We and the other students sensed the change. This was the moment when the innovative concept of “creating an art museum to exhibit beautiful works made with metal mold processing technology” was born.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, we do not give answers at zenschool.
Through dialogue, the students themselves will be able to put into their own words what kind of future they want to create. The following are the words that came out of the dialogue with Ms. Kajikawa.

●Pure white
●A quiet space
●Shhhh” (onomatopoeia)
●It’s an industrial park, but it feels good.
●People who come here → Unexpectedness → It feels good
●Fun factory
●Craftsman = curator
●Toyama Factory Museum

After the concept was born, he was so busy trying to realize it that he has almost no memory of that time. As far as those of us who were involved in the commercialization of the project are concerned, after we presented the concept at the presentation at the end of the zenschool, things went by in a flurry of activity, such as making the railings and preparing for the challenge of crowdfunding to raise funds.
In January 2016, “Gaia no Yoake” (Dawn of Gaia)-TV Tokyo, which closely followed Ms. Kajikawa, aired, and the crowdfunding campaign that started on the same day was a huge success, raising 2.05 million yen against the target of 800,000 yen. The actual museum that was created is shown in the photo. In the “white” space, there is a sense of “quiet” silence, and despite being located in an industrial park, it is a very “comfortable space”.

Factory Art Museum Toyama
Ms.Kajikawa and Miki

5.Story Board

In order to clarify ideas, we will work on a “story board.
A “story board” is a pictorial representation of the user’s experience with a product or service as a single story. A story board is a pictorial representation of the user’s experience with a product or service. The user’s experience is divided into multiple panels and represented in chronological order. Each frame is an “illustration” that symbolizes the scene and explains the situation with all kinds of detailed information including the situation, state of mind, and sensations. Speech balloons, onomatopoeia, etc. are also used to express the situation.
How the user felt before encountering the product or service. How did they feel after encountering the product or service? The user’s situation, state of mind, temperature, touch and smell, etc., when they hold the product in their hands. …… will be expressed in as much detail as possible.
Afterwards, while looking at the completed “story board,” the other students and we had a dialogue to make the “story board” more concrete. By repeating the dialogue, the number of drawings on the story board will increase and the images will become clearer.

6. Business plan presentation

About a month after completing the intensive zenschool course, the students present their business ideas to the class, which includes zenschool graduates and general participants. Each presentation consists of a 10-minute presentation and a 10-minute Q&A session. There are no restrictions on the style of presentation. There are no restrictions on the style of presentation, and presenters are free to express themselves in any way they like, whether it be in costume, singing, or storytelling.

However, there are rules for the audience. Those who listen to the presentations are required to take the following positions.

Pay attention to “how excited the presenter is” rather than numbers or rationality.
When criticizing, offer “ideas to make it even better.
Instead of pointing out deficiencies, give “warm and fuzzy” comments.

This is not a typical business plan presentation, but it is a presentation that has just been created from scratch. This is a business idea that has just been created from scratch and is about to be introduced to the world. I would like to watch over them and nurture their “true innovation.
In addition to the presentations by the students, there is also time for petit presentations where the graduates present their progress. In addition to the presentations by the students, there are also petit presentations where the graduates give presentations on their progress, call for cooperation in selling products that have already been launched, and solicit collaborators during the development process. The dialogue and interaction between the participants and visitors will encourage the development of “true innovation” in each of them.

8. Follow-up

The zenschool continues to hold monthly online meetings for 6 months after the completion of the program to keep the dialogue going.
When they return to their daily lives after completing zenschool, about 80% of the graduates return to their original state of mind as they are busy with their daily work. True innovation,” which others may think is outlandish, is not easily accepted in daily life. The excitement of being awakened to “true innovation” will be gradually swept away and motivation will decline. That’s where regular follow-ups come in, to keep the passion alive.
In addition to our instructors, our peers gather for online meetings. Some of them have not given up, and are gradually working towards the creation of “true innovation”. We are encouraged by the sight of our peers through the dialogue of students who are aiming for crowdfunding to raise funds for development, and we gain courage by sharing our worries.
In this way, many “true innovations” have been created at zenschool.


Business Creation in the Age of After-Corona What are the mental abilities required for

Due to the global spread of the new coronavirus, the world economy has entered an era in which the future is completely uncertain. What is required in these times is the ability to be aware of one’s own physical senses, make accurate judgments, and act accordingly.

These are “concentration” to focus on the task at hand, “compassion” to bring the team together while being attentive to and understanding the minds and emotions of team members, “decisiveness” to recognize the voice of one’s own body and make optimal conscious decisions, “resilience” to not lose heart even in a high stress environment, and “creativity” to be able to create something new from scratch.

At zenschoolVR, we will provide an environment to strengthen these mental abilities and create new businesses by planning new businesses in the special environment of VR and having deep dialogues.

We will use the VR workspace provided by Spatial to do zenschool VR.
We will have a deep dialogue around the fire in the VR workspace provided by Spatial.

The overwhelming power of self-disclosure brought about by VR

In a dialogue using VR, there is no need to show one’s face or facial expressions, and as a result, overwhelming self-disclosure is promoted. This creates a space where people can say what they want to say in a space where self-disclosure is done and confidentiality is maintained.

In addition, while flat online meetings are easily influenced by the surrounding environment in which the meeting is held, the sense of immersion brought about by the three-dimensional space using VR technology brings about a high level of concentration on the individual “dialogue,” which in turn generates emergence from the “dialogue.

Based on academic research on VR and consciousness change

With reference to academic research* at Waseda University and the University of Montreal, where VR is believed to bring about a change in consciousness, zenschool in virtual reality was created not as an alternative to real-life zenschool, but as a service that can provide new value. We developed zenschoolVR in order to create the kind of business that will be needed in the new normal.

As a result of our experiments with dialogue using VR, we were able to experience an unprecedented depth of dialogue in the immersive environment of VR, and we were convinced that we could provide value that was no less than that of a real-life zenschool.

※We are confident that we can provide the same value as the real zenschool, and this is what led us to offer zenschoolVR. “* “A study on the evaluation of psychological influence in VR space” Architectural Institute of Japan, Environmental Systems, Vol. 78, №683, 1–7, January 2013 Azusa Yokoi (Waseda University) and Miho Saito (Waseda University)

※“Virtual reality therapy for refractory auditory verbal hallucinations in schizophrenia: A pilot clinical trial”, Schizophrenia Research Volume 197, July 2018, Pages 176–18, Olivier Perciedu Sertabd, Stéphane Potvinab, Olivier Lippab. (University of Montreal, Canada).

Thoughts on holding zenschoolVR

With the declaration of the state of emergency, we were forced to refrain from holding zenschool, which requires close space interaction, but after much thought about the new normal in the age of after-corona, I asked myself whether close space interaction is really possible without face-to-face interaction. I asked myself.

As I was searching for a way to use current technology, I tried the online tool zoom, but it didn’t deepen the dialogue, and I wondered if it was possible only in an environment where we could have a real dialogue face to face. I was wondering if it would be possible to hold such an event only in an environment where people could meet face to face and have a real dialogue.

I was convinced that zenschoolVR could provide as much value as zenschool in real life, and this led me to offer zenschoolVR. Virtual reality zenschool was born not as an alternative to real-life zenschool, but as a service that can provide new value. Please join us in zenschoolVR to create the kind of business that will be needed in the new normal.

However, in the age of harmony, environmental problems, pandemics, and wars, it is necessary to have a global business concept based on Japanese values that supports and cooperates with each other instead of competing with each other.

In this age of confusion, business models based on left-brained logic are reaching their limits. It is time to value Japan’s ancient values and reclaim the global way of doing business based on coexistence and co-prosperity.



Zen and Innovation : Kouji Miki

A school of innovation based on the Zen philosophy that overcame unemployment and depression through zazen.